The MoD and other parties
DI Young came to the party. ‘I could help the process along. We know one of those in the gite has something planned in Edinburgh, don’t ask how we know. Where are you staying?’
‘Here’s an address which is safer.’
‘Thank you. I have to tell you though I’m going back to Durham first.’
‘I shall. If it comes to it and she agrees, may she also stay with me to this address? I’d prefer her to be safe.’
‘Mr. Forrester, your signals are loud and clear, they are partly behind the offer. Of course it’s fine and you can make a duplicate set of keys too if you like. I’ll give you this set now, best you don’t visit me again in the short term. We’ll stay in touch by mobile. However -’
Miles waited and the DI was clearly cogitating about this. ‘It’s my brother. Frankly, I don’t do this hacking and exploring thing they do online but much of my intel comes from him, he’s a bit of a jack-of-all-trades, as you are but he’s good on computers. He’s actually the reason I know about Edinburgh. You’d appreciate I have to keep him the right side of the line but he does drop hints and I don’t ask too much about other aspects of his work.’
‘He drives a Ford Transit. White.’
‘Reason I mention him is that you and I are both working on this, though from different angles, and I’d like to get this thing sorted and signed off. I think he and you might hit it off, maybe not. He’s opinionated,’ Young was watching Miles, albeit casually, ‘and that can be good to a point, not so good if he doesn’t listen, as many of that type don’t. Dave listens. He can also go to ground and just become your regular type of guy, as they say. Plus everyone’s always wanting technical help and he gets invited in, sometimes by creating a glitch or two.’
‘Sounds exactly the sort we need on board. What’s his thing, his shtick? What’s he about?’
‘His most exasperating trait is that he really doesn’t care about things we get our knickers in a twist over, he does it for the thrill of the chase. I observe you, Mr. Forrester and while you seem a decent enough sort, you can get a bit intense about things, anxious about outcomes. David is a bit too much the other way but when he sees the need for something to be done, you’d not have anyone better on the end of the line.’
‘Does anyone see him as a right bastard?’
Young grinned. ‘They’re his middle names. He enjoys a wind-up and can take it in return. Most times. Don’t take anything to heart he might say and you’ll be fine. He’s testing you. Testing is what he does in his day job – he tests things to see how they tick, if they’ll work. He also gets bored. It’s just my hunch but this might work.
Why don’t I rig up a meeting anyway, best way is you come to stay at this address and if your good lady is part of it by then, they might get along.’
‘Not sure I want him anywhere near her. Is he married?’
Young grinned again. ‘No, divorced but he does have a … friend. He likes redheads with big … er …’
‘You’re angling for this, aren’t you?’
‘It’s my hunch, I told you. Doesn’t work out, we forget it. Oh and he’s about your height, with the goatee stubble. Thicker set than you – he likes his food but is still brawny. He’s a bit younger than you, not by much.’
Paul Glendinning was on the line to Haas’s PA, Jenny, and a hard little madam she was, dark-haired, petite but you’d not want to mess with her.
Haas maintained a staff of three as far as Paul knew, there was an itinerant he sometimes spoke of, a woman, there was his glorified valet and then N1, the gatekeeper, was Jenny – there’d been much speculation about her full role in Haas’s life but that was by-the-by.
‘Sir Gerald there?’
‘Is it urgent?’
‘Is he there, Jenny?’
‘No as a matter of fact. You don’t know he’s in Stockholm today? We all do.’
‘Then why aren’t you?’
‘I’m minding the shop, James and Edwina are with him. On the basis that you do know this, Paul, what do you need?’
‘To speak, Ms Daniels, to speak.’
‘Well, you’ll have to wait, Paul, until he returns. You can call him direct -’
‘No, it’s you I need to see, about recent developments.’
‘Oh really?’ There was silence for a few moments. ‘All right, Paul, say at close of play today, Maggie’s in Lewisham, I’ll be hungry, go into the second room.’
‘I’ll be there.’
There was a knock at the door of the cottage in Durham, Amelie answered it and was both surprised and not surprised.
‘Come in. You’re certainly getting about the country, Mr. Forrester.’
Laura was coming down the stairs in her robe – a smile spread across her face. ‘Miles, what brings you here at 9 p.m.?’
‘We need to talk, not in generalities anymore but to plan and I need to let you in on some things. I’ve been with DI Young.’
A late supper was hurriedly prepared, they went through to the living room and sat down. He got straight down to it. ‘Is your phone tapped, do these walls have ears? Do you have your own recording system for interesting visitors?’
‘Not sure, yes and yes. I’ll switch it off if it’s in my interests to.’
‘I think it is. Before we get down to any of it, I want to say that the murder is still important to the Inspector but he can’t get any closer. For me, it’s now less important in the scheme of things – my island is paramount now. So are you – you’re part of my plans but I might not be part of yours.’
‘Just one moment.’
‘I’ve done it,’ said Amelie. ‘I’m going upstairs.’
She did so. Laura added, ‘That does mean she won’t listen – she’s in the room on the end. We have our code. Fire away.’
‘Things are about to hit the fan and I can’t do it alone, Laura. You think you can and I hear you’re pretty good but even this one is too big for one. We’re not dealing just with the Man here but with serious nutters – even your charm won’’t save this situation.’
‘What are you proposing?’
‘That you and I throw in our lot together, at least on this, for now – combine, work out some strategies.’
‘Why would our interests coincide?’
‘They wouldn’t have earlier, that’s true but things have moved on. I know you have your sources. I’m using the law because they have better surveillance, a longer reach and as I’m no criminal – well at least not currently wanted as one – it makes sense.’
‘For you maybe. I have much to lose.’
‘You’re probably better at these things than me, you’re intelligent. I’ve a cavalier streak and ruthlessness you haven’t seen yet because I’ve not shown it.’
‘That’s where you’re wrong,’ she smiled. ‘Doncaster?’
‘Ah, so you see the modus operandi. That helps. I’m going to divulge a lot this evening and if you play fair, we’ll survive. If you’re still playing a lone hand, I’d say we’re both dead people.’
‘Convince me then.’
‘All right. This evening, about now, Frank’s being arrested.’
‘What’s he being charged with?’ she demanded.
‘First degree. He was the one looking through the little window.’
‘But that’s rubbish,’ she was annoyed. ‘You know as well as I do that he was down near the house. No one’s ever said otherwise, not Chloe, not me, not you.’
‘He’s remanded, nothing more. Laura, look at me. The third female was up that tree, right?’
She was seriously in two minds, not just about the immediate question but about it all. She was either going to close this off now or she was about to jump into the abyss. Are you working for DI Young? Will my answers go to him?’
‘On my word, no. Not unless you yourself request or agree to it. I have to play fair with him to a point but my main loyalty is to you now, for the foreseeable too, I think you know that, you’ve gathered that already.’
‘Yes you’ve gathered that?’
‘Yes she was.’
‘And her name is Penny,’ he commented.
‘How did you … never mind. Yes.’
‘And she was wearing a grey jacket.’
‘She’s MoD, according to my sources, yet she keeps an eye out for a man called Cornell and there’s some sort of familiarity between the two.’
‘Familiarity,’ she snorted. ‘That’s a good word for it.’
‘Frank has a connection with all this. Now, we either pool our information and are ahead of the game or we don’t and get nowhere.’
‘Meaning that’s all you have on that.’
‘On that, yes. Fair comment. On Ralph, Chloe and the gite – much more.’
She sighed. ‘OK, Miles, I buy. Penny’s out for the main chance, Dan Cornell thinks he has her under the thumb, his lackey, she squares things for him and has her antennae out, he’s in charge of the plan to buy and explore under the island. I don’t know her personally but know much about her. I find these things out. Ralph is Johanssen’s man dealing with MoD – they’re offering you on a plate. You’re to be compromised or threatened, you’ll get the owners to sell -’
‘They really are fools, aren’t they?’ She smiled. ‘I’m using the DI at Lytton, just as he’s using me. He’ll not let me in on it if he’s planning an arrest and he knows I’ll not rat on you. I’ll certainly rat on the others. You have loyalties to Ralph – I know it’s more than business – and it’s not in your nature to help the law. I’m in two minds about the law – they can be useful. The one who killed Melissa was either you or Chloe. The DI’s been back there with a fine tooth comb -’
‘Which means you and Frank aren’t in communication or else you’re playing a clever game.’
‘No, I’m not playing. All right, Miles, my job was to throw Melissa the gun and she was going to force you to sign away the island. But as you know and I know and almost everyone knows – but no one told Melissa – that was never going to happen at gunpoint. How she fell for it, I don’t know. As I say, I was meant to do that but something made me pause – I was being left out of the loop too much. Frank’s shrewd in business but he’s not a great thinker generally.
It seemed to me a classic set up. I throw the gun, he’s worked on Melissa about me stealing her money or getting him to, she lives for the money – lived – and I feared she was readying to kill me. I didn’t buy the island selling in the least. The gun was in the covered area, the secret cranny, behind the stables, up that end where the window is.’
He was watching every move of the lips, every facial gesture and that spiky, short-cropped hair and she was watching him watching her. Her throat was parched and she took a sip of tea.
‘The idea was for it to be split second,’ she continued. ‘I had no idea Chloe was coming up to the stables. Yes, I knew she was on with Frank, had been from well before that day – he wanted the island but was a bit out of that loop and used any chance. He backgrounded her, found a person he could do business with and it went from there.’
‘You mean they were making love.’
‘Oh Miles, you poor dear, we’ve been through all that.’ She’d briefly rested a hand on his forearm and it was a significant moment. ‘Frank was well aware of the ownership of the island, as you’d let the information out to Chloe. I was to throw the gun, Melissa was to threaten you, Melissa shoots me – that bit’s my thinking – you’re framed.’
‘I’d have seen her do it.’
‘Miles, Miles, I keep saying – I was getting squeezed out, though they made it look as if I was right in there at important discussions, everyone yelling this and that. Let’s take this step by step. Did I go to Durham?’
‘That’s set in rock and yes it was you. But why?’
‘Frank. He wanted me out of it, which tells me that at that point, I was in the loop and he still cared. Call your DI, I want you to know the exact time I left to come back, then I can continue. Please call him. For me?’
He took out the mobile and called. There was to-ing and fro-ing, some long pauses, then he said thanks and hung up.
‘You left in the taxi at 9.35 a.m.’
‘That’s important because either Chloe or I came up that gully. Now think it through – that puts me in the area around midday, a bit after that. You arrived around 2 p.m. Did I stay and talk with Chloe at the Travellers?’
‘Chloe says so.’
‘Yes, only Chloe. Did you check with the hotel staff? Did the Inspector?’
He called again, apologizing.
‘All right, Laura, continue.’
I was at the house well before you arrived – think about how I do things. I plan them. Where did the cabby drop me? The house of course and the Inspector knew that – didn’t he?’ He nodded. This is the point which has been entirely missed – I never met Chloe at the hotel earlier. Yet someone ran up the gully, yes? The feet don’t matter – she and I have the same size.’ She took off and showed him her slip-ons, he got the picture. ‘The point is – yes, I was near that window, I was in place.’
‘Did you know Chloe was arriving, staying at the hotel?’
‘I thought through all the possibilities on the taxi trip back. All I knew was that she was going to be there in some form, some way, but what was worrying me was that, having been out of the loop, suddenly I’m called back into it and it’s all meant to be so rushed. Get to the property and race up there into place. That smelt.’
‘How did Chloe get a gun for her second shot?’
‘Miles, think – there were two guns. There was the first from the alcove but there had to be a second on someone – Chloe or me. I’m not admitting I was carrying one.’
‘Yes, ah. Let’s get back to Penny. Why was she up that tree? What exactly was she ensuring? Let me ask you a different one – why that tree in particular? What advantage did that give her?’
‘From there she could cover the little window and nod to Frank at his living room window, she had the run up the gully covered, she had you covered at the little window and me up to the stables and on the way down and you still haven’t told me how you yourself got away.’
‘Just before it all happened, I saw Penny – remember I don’t actually know her personally but know it was her climbing that tree in that grey jacket – and I knew something was very wrong. Then I saw Chloe coming up the through that gully at a rate of knots – that’s when it all became clear to me.’
There was a pause and he asked, ‘Why was the second shot necessary? Melissa seemed dead already.’
‘Vindictiveness? I just don’t know. Whoever fired that second shot had Chloe sized feet in galoshes and climbed through that window.’
‘Let’s leave all that and get to the main point of me being here. I want you to come with me now, it’s not safe for you here.’
‘You’re expecting me to laugh, to mock the idea. One moment.’ She buzzed and he could hear someone coming down the stairs. Amelie came into the room with a large holdall.
‘Yes, Miles, I do think ahead.’
It was late afternoon in Lytton, another drizzler, with sunny patches and then down it would drizzle again – a ‘don’t get your hopes up’ day.
The police station was that typical police station all police stations were, designed to depress the spirit.
‘Well, isn’t this nice … Mrs Forrester is it now?’ The DI smiled that smile Miles wished he wouldn’t.
‘Not yet,’ answered Laura. ‘If it ever happens, we’d like you at our wedding.’
‘Need you as my best man,’ added Miles.
‘My goodness,’ beamed DI Young. ‘I’m up for it. Church is it?’
‘It would be Church,’ said Laura.
‘I think there’s something you’re not telling me.’
‘Yes,’ answered Miles. ‘We need to sort out the island, Johanssen, the MoD, Frank and Chloe first. We have a plan which we think will work.’
‘The first can be arrested tomorrow. There’s more than enough on the carrying of unregistered firearms.’
‘With the greatest respect, we’re not entrusting our safety to that. Once he sees the little spectacle we have organized for later today, he’s going to be bent on vengeance. The others will take the offers. He won’t and in jail, he’s far more powerful – he has no known natural predators inside but outside – he has you. Better he stays out for now.’
‘And you’d like protection?’
‘Not the type you can provide. He’s got people on the force, everywhere. No, he needs to be held over a barrel and we’re going to do that, make him an offer he can’t refuse.’
‘You could just murder him,’ observed DI Young, wrily.
‘No, he has to be alive and no longer a threat. That’s all.’
‘Why are you opening up to me, an officer of the law?’
‘We’re committing no crime, neither here nor in mainland Europe and I plan to keep it that way. I might soon be throwing myself on the mercy of the law.’
‘Because it’s the last resort. You have ways of protecting people when you really want to.’
‘You’re forgetting one matter.’
‘No we’re not.’ He supplied many of the details but the part incriminating Laura he let her say herself.
‘There are still a couple of years inside for Ms Forrester.’
‘She’d be killed inside – you know that. If there were a plea bargain, if we could help you with your enquiries and shop some erstwhile partners in crime -’
‘All right, we’ll speak on that at a later time. It would help your case if your good lady doesn’t scarper.’
‘Why don’t I just arrest the lot of them now – that way, there’ll be no unpleasantness at the island, nothing for me to have to pursue. Johanssen and cronies – long stretch for multiple crimes. Ms Forrester’s Ralph – for murder, the Edinburgh case. Your Chloe – conspiracy to pervert the course, conspiracy to defraud, conspiracy to murder, which also ties in Johanssen and Co. The former Ms O’Brien has no record.’
‘All you’ll do is postpone the denouement. Better to let us do this, there’s no law broken. Then we can get down to the issue of Laura. And you’ll have all of them where they can’t wriggle out.’
‘Good luck, I suppose.’
The day was magnificent, the wind passable, the island a picture as nature decided enough winter and had swung over to summer.
Twelve helicopters simply landed on the upper half of the island, the passengers but not the pilots got out, bent down and made for the house.
Miles tried the door – locked of course, tried his key – changed of course. One of the passengers came forward with the skeleton and the door was opened. A man sprang out from the bedroom, face creased with anger, saw the company, saw himself vastly outnumbered, three of the younger passengers simply took him by the legs and dragged him bodily out of the house, over to the first helicopter and handcuffed a wrist and a leg to the landing sled.
‘You’re in the wrong house, my friend. That’s Mr. Forrester’s house, I believe.’ Ralph Stammers was still swearing like a trooper as they returned to the house.
Miles had already stormed into the bedroom, taken her by the ankles too and dragged her into the living room ‘Sit down, gentlemen. I’ll bring chairs.’
A few of the men helped, they brought the chairs in, Miles and Laura went to the kitchen and were disgusted at the state of the dishes. They found various clean glasses, a couple of cups, saw the state of the fridge, came in and said, ‘We need to use our own supplies I’m afraid.’
Three of the men went out to get the makings, Ralph lashed out at one as he went by, the man went over in turn and stomped on Ralph’s face, just the once. Ralph had never ever had anyone do such a thing before – it actually shut him up. It slowly dawned that he was up against something hard now and this was reinforced moments later when who should be striding grimly up the hill but Johanssen, shotgun in hand, with three others behind him, similarly armed.
Johanssen saw Ralph, it seemed to drive him crazy, he aimed at the men, a blast from the doorway of the house saw him almost comically upended but it was no laughing matter – he was injured and the blood poured onto the grass. The other three had more sense and laid down their weapons, stepping back.
Four more came out of the house, went down and took the weapons. Three others now went down, one had a stamp at Ralph’s face, then they dragged the bloodied Johanssen unceremoniously up the gravel path by his feet and flung him through the door. Chloe was goggle-eyed and very frightened, Ralph outside was just goggle-eyed. Chloe also glared at Laura who’d stayed well out of it until now and planned for that to continue.
Back inside, Miles picked the naked Chloe up from the rug and threw her into one of the chairs, coffee was poured and sandwiches distributed, two of the men sat on Johanssen who’d now woken up that he was in deep do-dos and knew to follow the code for the moment. He shut up and just lay there, trying to breath.
‘Right,’ said Miles. ‘I’ve asked you here today because this is your island,’ he nodded to each principle in turn, ‘although not all of you know everyone else. It’s not necessary. Everything on this island and under it is yours. Any wealth is yours.
You will have to return the actual equipment you find to the owners, one who is lying under two of your men just now – the equipment and the arms do belong to him. If he’s willing to let it go, leave the island, if you buy his equipment, then I’d say that’s a good day’s dealing.’
Two of the principals nodded to their men, who grabbed Johanssen and dropped his trousers, bent him over a couch and put a knife to his goolies. The third eyeballed him.
‘Do we make ourselves clear?’
Johanssen nodded weakly, he’d lost a fair bit of blood now and would require medical attention.
One of the principals sitting by the sideboard nodded and two of his men dragged Johanssen by his feet again, through the door, down to the third helicopter.
‘What are they going to do?’ whispered Chloe.
‘He’ll go to a hospital,’ said Miles. ‘His gun misfired, didn’t it? They’ll drop him to the asphalt from a metre or so above and someone is bound to find him in the middle of that carpark. The other three are still sitting on the grass out there. I thought they might have gone for the gite, there may be booby traps. I suggest we take my ex-woman with us – she’ll go in ahead of us once we’re down there.’
There was a general exodus, the skeleton key man locked up behind him, two men took Chloe’s hands and pulled them behind her, binding her wrists with string, she was ashen. One pushed her in the back and she too went outside.
Ralph saw the procession to the gite and kept his head down.
Eventually they all emerged from the gite, one of the principals now turned and wondered, ‘Why, Miles?’
‘I have my own revenue sources which are better for my health, I’d never know what to do with that sort of money and I want Johanssen out of my hair. You’ve done the latter -’
‘For some time, my friend, only for some time. He’ll come after you, we should have ended it.’
‘I have a part two for Johanssen, if necessary, I think it will happen too. You need to take your island because soon you’ll need to deal with the Man himself, through a nasty specimen called Dan Cornell and another called Penny Dalshiel. The MoD wants this island but it will have to pay you big if you get onto it quickly and make certain deals you might want made – it’s over to you now. My lady has one request – don’t hurt the idiot currently shackled to the helicopter.’
‘You’re making a mistake.’
‘I know I am, I’m glad she’s hearing this now, it’s idiocy leaving him alive, there’s nothing I can do – the lady has spoken. Any of you got wives? Women get these obsessions for the unworthy.’
There were grunts and groans, Laura glared at him. Miles finished up, ‘Let’s say these idiots come after us, could you see your way clear to making available one of your redoubts for a short time?’
There were some nods.
Formalities over, they all went to the helicopters, Ralph was shown the alternative – to take off with them all now, still shackled below or to travel inside if he promised never to come after the happy couple, nor do anything to hurt anyone. He nodded.
Everything now done, Ralph released, all on board, the helicopters took off and headed for land, dropping the passengers into the arms of the law, via cable, then one helicopter swung out over the Irish Sea.
‘What’s this?’ asked Penny Dalshiel.
‘We can’t hold you any longer, Penny. You know your position depended on you remaining incognito.’
‘That’s unfair dismissal.’
‘Notin terms of our arrangement – you’re welcome to try but official secrets comes into play. Speaking of playing, you were playing away.’
Document after document was laid down in front of her – just the summaries – she looked away.
‘Sorry Penny, you’ve done good work apart from this. The usual severance packet will be forthcoming.’
All the way down those stairs, murder was in her heart, Cornell plus O’Brien would go down for this. Favours were about to be called in.
She paused by one of those pillars between shops with a full length mirror attached, she looked terrible and had to regroup – she had no bargaining chips any longer.
The beat of the helicopter blades overhead changed its note as the craft with Miles and Laura dipped and started its downwards descent.
Laura didn’t know what was going on – she leaned her head against the glass and saw a boat below, it was obvious they were going to land on it but it was surely too small. Now the penny dropped.
The braces were donned, the line attached, they stepped gingerly yo the edge, the whir began and down they went, clutching each other.
The landing was a bit unceremonious on the wet deck, the braces were released, the line retracted and the helicopter swung away in the direction of who knew where.
‘Well?’ she asked.
‘This way,’ and he led her down the ladder, along the walkway and into the wheelhouse.
The boatman nodded, said a few things to Miles and handed over the wheel – Laura was incredulous. ‘What the …?’
Then: ‘Well, are you going to explain?’
He pointed to the door leading downstairs and said, ‘I’ll join you after you freshen up.’
She looked at him, turned and went downstairs. It became patently obvious which room was theirs – many of her things were in there, only Amelie could have packed them. There was a conspiracy here and she didn’t mind one bit.
She checked the bathroom and it was quite large really, not only that but her toilet bag was there, the one she’d taken away with her.
She looked in the wardrobe – his things were up one end, hers down the other from Durham, it was surreal, unreal. She went back to the bathroom and spent fifteen minutes freshening up, changing into a dress for the evening, a dress which had also been packed.
Someone went past the door, she heard him talking to Miles. Miles came downstairs, saw her in the dress, hair immaculate, said all the right things, then stepped up and kissed her cheek. They walked down the passageway to another largish room with a table in the middle.
That table had been set for two, the wine had been poured, the buffet supper was ready, cold cuts on the sideboard.
‘We weren’t sure what time we’d get here, what time that business would finish. Breakfast will be cooked.’
‘I’m going to tell you a secret after we’ve eaten, Miles. You’ve taken me on trust but I need to level with you, it’s a major factor in why I’m with you.’
‘Intriguing. Let’s eat first.’
They ate in silence, hungrily as a matter of fact but eventually she asked, ‘Why did that man give you the steering wheel?’
‘The ship’s wheel? Because he had to put out the supper.’
‘You know that’s not what I meant. Why to you, Miles?’
‘She’s my boat, one of them.’
‘Not all of them are. I have a fleet, they fish. I skim off 5% – just a small revenue stream over 26 boats – it adds up, people always need fish. I actually own eight of those. There are other revenue streams too – mild, modest, constant, small time. I need to know you can take a diverse life, doing different things. The fishing is only one part.’
‘I’m adaptable, I quite like this boat,’ she laughed.
‘We could live on a bit bigger boat, we could forget it – I like boats but that’s just me.’
‘I do too, always have, perhaps a little bigger than this, not by a lot though. Anyway, we have bigger questions first.’
‘Yes. Your secret.’
‘That’s for bed. How sure are you we won’t be overheard?’
‘If our heads are on the pillow and we lie the other way, not with heads near the outside, and we keep the voices down, it should be OK.’
They took care of business, the man came through and took the dishes but threw Miles a cloth and he cleaned the table.
‘So, here we are, Ms Laura.’
‘I’m not Laura.’ She looked searchingly at him, at the lack of reaction.
‘I thought there was something,’ he eventually said. ‘I wasn’t sure what it was.’
‘At least Laura is one of my names, my second name. My first name is … Jacqueline, Jacqui if you want. There are reasons.’
‘And your sister?’
‘She’s not my sister-sister, so to speak but a cousin, a close cousin. Her name’s sometimes Janine. There’s another cousin called Emma but she doesn’t come into the tale, she’s married and lives in Salzburg. My mother died in childbirth, my father passed away of lung cancer four years ago, I was brought up by my aunt.’
‘That’s the big secret?’
‘No, not the main one. I don’t wish to burst this bubble I have with you now, Miles, but I’m actually very much employed, or at least have been until now, which puts me in a quandary – best I just tell you. You may have heard of certain things happening in the world, perhaps you haven’t. The Mayor of Neuillie was odds-on to be elected and then suddenly withdrew – I withdrew him.’
‘Yes, I suggested it was best for all concerned. To be more precise, a certain gentleman knew of something he’d done which made him unfit for office but couldn’t get it to stick. I took the commission, worked my way into the mayor’s household as hired help, he became dependent, I then presented him with his choices, before disappearing – I’m good at disappearing.’
‘Noted. What if he’d not been guilty? What if this had just been a vendetta by a rich man?’
‘Oh but he was. He couldn’t be touched. I was called in, I have a certain reputation for discretion. Over my time with him, I made sure he was guilty – if I couldn’t have become sure of that, I’d have resigned the commission and taken the loss.’
‘Only mayors and men in high places?’
‘No, anyone but it’s not Robin Hood work – I have a fee and it’s not a small one, I have to be reasonably sure of his or her guilt to start with and then find the rest out on the job. Amelie works for a section in London, loosely connected to the Home Office, which is desperate to make my acquaintance.
They’re apparently not averse to what I do, as my targets are often theirs and I have a better track record than them but a couple of times I’ve boobed, got it wrong and ruined one of their long investigations. I had to go to ground for that. It takes a long time on a job – months to work my way in, a month to do it, then a month gone to ground. I just go back to being Laura again. They have nothing to go on but there’s a reason for that.’
‘How do you cross borders?’
‘That’s the reason. My employers are often good with documentation or lorries. I’m generally left alone but someone is leaning on one of the men in the Home Office over me – I’ve been trying to find out who.’
‘I’d imagine this Scarlett Pimpernel type work gets you in, you get a taste for it.’
‘If you mean I couldn’t settle with you, yes I could, as long as we were active and it stayed diverse, just as you said to me. The work I’ve done is exciting, as I’m playing a part and then disappearing – exciting but empty too – no one like you to come home to, only Franks and Ralphs.’
‘Were Frank and you an item or was he a job?’
‘You know his character – he was a job. Through his car business, he stumbled on a discovery and my employer wanted to know what it was. Frank touted it about, trying to find a buyer and that’s where Penny became interested. Her strength is her networking, she knows everyone, she heard about this man, knew it was about metals or design, wasn’t sure which. But the one who employed has a connection with Penny – once the island connection with you became apparent, then it seemed time to move in on Frank.’
‘So, from the beginning, you’ve had tabs on the island and me.’
‘Yes, and on Chloe, hence I befriended her, where once she was a fellow escort. I haven’t got to the main point yet.’
‘This is where my months, even a year of sizing you up has brought me to decision time, it’s also going to tell you something about me. In plain speak, I’m making my move on you but to my surprise, you’ve also made your move on me.’ She took a sip from the glass on the bedside table, then turned back. ‘You see, part of my job was to spy and I did it well.’
‘Don’t I know it.’
‘Along the way, I found this slip of paper.’ She reached into her knickers, the last remaining item of clothing on her and gave it to him. He peered at it closely in the half light:
‘The cloak is made of a block of polydimethylsiloxane, a polymer used for contact lenses and shampoos, with added nanoparticles of titanium dioxide to help it scatter light more effectively. Inside the block is a hollow metal cylinder coated with reflective acrylic paint.’
She looked at him. ‘That in itself didn’t tell me much but something else did.’